With racegoers back in attendance at the Cheltenham Festival for the first time since 2020, when the meeting, somewhat controversially, went ahead just as we were beginning to feel the true effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom and Ireland, anticipation is at an all-time high for the four-day Festival — and it looks set to get off to a thrilling start with two hugely competitive renewals of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase.
There is so little to separate the exciting young horses in those two Grade 1 juvenile races, with Constitution Hill, Dysart Dynamo, Sir Gerhard and Jonbon all in contention for the curtain-raising Supreme in the horse racing tips on the Betfair Blog, while the Arkle, the second race of day one, is looking equally as competitive when looking at the ante-post market.
Contested over just one mile and seven furlongs, it’s a race for the fastest of chasing novices, who will also need to demonstrate accurate jumping over the 13 fences at immense speed — making it all the more exciting. So, with the next Sprinter Sacre or Altior perhaps in the making, read on as we take a look at the favourites for the Arkle…
After last year’s dismal display, when they got embarrassingly thrashed 23-5 in the Prestbury Cup, the British trainers will be hoping to put things right this year and Alan King’s Edwardstone is one of just a handful of favourites trained on home soil. Brought down on his seasonal reappearance at Warwick in November, the eight-year-old has been in the form of his career since — going on an unprecedented run of four successive victories, including wins in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton and the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase back at Warwick.
The Irish contingent will have plenty of confidence in the Willie Mullins-trained Blue Lord though, who isn’t far behind Edwardstone in the ante-post betting. Switched to steeplechasing after a largely unsuccessful bid as a hurdler — winning just once in five races — the seven-year-old has looked far more impressive over fences. He won a Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse on his debut before winning an EBF Novice Chase at Naas by some 20 lengths in January. It was his third successive victory that was the most impressive though, as he beat Riviere D’etel to win the Grade 1 Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month.
Another Irish runner, Gordon Elliott also opted to send Riviere D’etel down the chasing route this season after winning just once in four attempts over hurdles. The five-year-old started brilliantly over fences as well, winning three successive contests — including a Grade 2 Novice Chase at Punchestown and a Grade 3 Novice Chase at Navan. However, her form has derailed a bit since that hat-trick triumph — albeit tasked against tougher opposition, Riviere D’etel came up a length and a half short of 2020 Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown before that aforementioned half a length defeat to Blue Lord in the Irish Arkle.
Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam, both from Mullins’ Closutton yard, are next in at 7/1 and 10/1, which is a fair reflection on their hugely inconsistent form.